Cornerbacks abound at Broncos pre-season camp
August 2, 2001
GREELEY, Colo. (AP) – The way the Denver Broncos are collecting cornerbacks, it would hardly be surprising to see Deion Sanders saunter into training camp.
“That’s fine. He’s still got to play,” Broncos cornerback Jimmy Spencer said, smiling at the thought of battling “Prime Time” for playing time.
As Sanders enjoys retired life, Spencer and his Denver teammates have an intriguing cornerback competition before the team’s Sept. 10 season opener.
After signing veteran Eric Davis on Thursday, the Broncos have nine cornerbacks on their roster, including four who have at least four years of NFL experience and have been regular starters for other teams.
“Did I come here planning on backing up? No,” Davis said. “Should any guy in this camp plan on backing up? No. Why set your goals to making the team and being the backup? You might as well set your goals as having a winning season or making the playoffs instead of winning a Super Bowl. Why start a race if you don’t plan on winning?”
The cocksure attitude is just what the Broncos need as they try to improve a pass defense that finished last in the NFL in 2000.
Gone are former starters Terrell Buckley and Ray Crockett, two of the 12 players who have seen quality time at cornerback since coach Mike Shanahan took over in 1995.
Denard Walker and Deltha O’Neal entered training camp as possible starters, but Davis could unseat O’Neal, a former first-round draft pick who is still learning the nuances of the NFL as he prepares for his second season.
O’Neal, who played eight games as part of Denver’s nickel defense last year, had a tough practice Thursday but said his confidence remains high.
“They can bring in 20 corners. You’ve just got to worry about yourself,” he said. “If you look at somebody else, you’ll be caught up in that and you’ll forget about your job and lose your job.”
Davis, cut by Carolina as part of a salary-cap purge, plans to act as a mentor for O’Neal and rookie Willie Middlebrooks _ Denver’s first-round pick in April. If that means less playing time, Davis is willing to make the sacrifice as he begins his 12th NFL season.
“Part of a veteran’s job is to teach the next guy how to take your job,” he said. “If not, then you don’t have any respect for the game and you shouldn’t be a part of it.
“If I’m not starting, then the guy out there is going to help us win games, because I’m going to push him as hard as I possibly can to make sure he has that job. That’s what competition is all about. If a guy beats you out, he earned it. How can you cry about that? He earned it.”
Shanahan and defensive coordinator Ray Rhodes are well aware of Davis’ selfless attitude. The three were part of the San Francisco 49ers’ championship team in 1995.
“Veterans always are able to teach younger players by example, not necessarily with what they say, but how they practice and how they perform,” Shanahan said. “He’s a seasoned veteran who’s a class act and he’ll get a chance to get to go into that situation and compete with the rest of the DBs.”
The rest include Spencer, Darryl Pounds, Jason Suttle, Tyrone Poole and DeAuntae Brown. Like Davis, Walker, O’Neal and Middlebrooks, none of the five was with Denver when the Broncos won consecutive championships in 1997 and 1998.
“I’ve been playing the game a long time. I’ve seen a lot of guys come in and a lot of guys go,” said Spencer, who enters his 10th NFL season. “It’s just a business. We do have a lot of corners in here and a lot of competition going on. The way I look at it, we’re just trying to get better and get to the Super Bowl where we need to be.”